Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Istanbul, Turkey




Day One (July 19):


We were not sure what to expect when we reached Turkey, but it was an absolute success! I think that Istanbul was one of my favorite cities of this whole trip because it is so different – the culture, the people, the transportation, the language, the places you visit, the food, etc… Istanbul used to be Constantinople, you know, so it has so much history! Also, Istanbul is the only city that is on two continents – Europe and Asia. I went to both sides, since the city of Canakkale is on the Asian side, so now I can say that I’ve been to Asia, as well! Our port was on the European side. The port itself was so different than the others we went to; it was BUSY – about 1,000 other ships/vessels port there, too, which is a lot more than the other countries we visited. Because it was so busy, the water there in the port was so choppy and made our boat rocky! Looking out the window from our room, you can see all these mosques and the city buildings, it was pretty cool. Our first day off the ship, Lee and I had nothing planned (no field trips) so we took the tram further into Istanbul. It was really cheap and easy to use (the tram runs through the middle of the busy streets and just forms a long line, dropping people off after every few blocks or so.) We took the tram about 10 minutes to where the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque was – we wanted to knock out seeing those two major sites right away!! The Hagia Sophia is right across the street from the Blue Mosque, so it was very convenient! We got off the tram and headed for the Hagia Sophia first. It was amazing! We had to buy student tickets to go in. You walk through a small garden in the front first, and once you’re inside the mosque, it’s so open and HUGE. The Hagia Sophia you see was built during the reign of Justinian in 537 BC—it was built earlier but was burned down in 532. It was built as a Christian church, but then Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror converted it into a mosque later on. So, when walking through it, you can see the influence of Christian and Islamic architecture, and it boasts the culture of both! So it’s pretty cool J We walked around the first floor and saw the mirhab, the “stand” thing that is in mosques, it points to the direction of Mecca for those who are praying. The ceiling was so high and it was pretty dark in there; all candles lit it up! After spending awhile in the Hagia Sophia, Lee and I left and crossed the street to find the Blue Mosque. It had started to rain, but it felt good since it had been warm earlier. The weather in Turkey wasn’t unbearable because it was pretty windy, at least in Istanbul it was.


When we were crossing the street to the Blue Mosque, a group of 4 Turkish guys were in front of us, and they turned around and started asking us where we were from. I guess we don’t look like we’re from Turkey J We told them we were from America, and they were interested in asking us questions about ourselves and all that. They were really funny and spoke a limited amount of English, but it was amazing how they could figure out which words to speak to us that we’d understand! They were headed to the Blue Mosque, too, and asked us if we’d like to all go together! Haha! So Lee and I made a few Turkish friends that day! It was so much fun getting to talk with them; they were in their early twenties and were pretty interesting and funny! They were from Istanbul and Ankara. They wanted pictures with us hanging out in the Blue Mosque and everything, and they even helped Lee and I put on the headscarves that were “encouraged” to be worn while inside the mosque. We had never had to worn a headscarf before, and they explained that their mothers wore them, so they knew how to tie them for us. Anyway, they were pretty fun, and after the Blue Mosque, they wanted to take us to get a drink of orange juice! Orange juice is really big in Istanbul…they have orange juice (freshly squeezed!!!) stands on the side of the road and in the cafes everywhere, and they also have fresh corn stands on the roads, too! Lee and I still wanted to see other things in the city, so we had to politely decline! After saying goodbye to our new buds, we took the tram to the Grand Bazaar! The Grand Bazaar is HUGE… you walk into the tunnel, and it just seems to go on forever. You can totally get lost in there for hours. And that is exactly what Lee and I did. We bought a few scarves, and haggled for them, and got a cheaper price! The shopkeepers are so funny and will compliment you and sweet talk you – they tell you that they’ll give you a special discount that’s just for you, but really, they sweet talk every girl! It’s so fun! The scarves were our first purchase, so we didn’t get our cheapest deals on them, but they were still pretty cheap! We got better once we got to the other shops. When you’re walking down the bazaar, there are so many people hollering at you and wanting you to come into their shop, it’s awesome! In another scarf shop we went in, after we were done buying stuff from it, the shopkeeper brought us Original Turkish tea and we sat there and had hot tea with him for awhile! Haha! That’s just what they do, and they even offer you tea before you’ve bought anything – it’s just a polite thing they do for you, and they don’t expect you to buy anything even if you drank their tea. For the most part, everyone was really nice and interested in where we had come from and what we were doing in Istanbul. I bought a lot of other small knick knacks in the bazaar, a leather-bound journal (got a sweet deal on it, too!), some Turkish tea, some gifts, etc. It was so much fun! I think we spent 3 hours in there that first day. Later that afternoon, we stopped at a small restaurant on the street and had kebabs/kebaps- they were interesting…I didn’t finish mine because the pork inside the pita didn’t taste very cooked/good. J All in all, we had a very accomplished, busy but AWESOME first day in Istanbul!!!


Day Two (July 20):


The next day, Lee and I were signed up for a field trip that spanned two days: we were going to Canakkale, Troy, and Gallipoli! It took 5 hours via bus to get to Canakkale, which is on the Asian side of Turkey! We had to cross the Bosphorus, which only took about 10 minutes by ferry! Canakkale is really close to Troy, so we went there first to see the archaeological museum that is there. It had a lot of artifacts from the Hellenistic and Roman periods…but the museum was actually really run down. We were surprised. It didn’t look like anyone had been in there in ages! But it was still fun. Outside the museum, there were lots of grapes growing wild, so some of us tried them! They were super sweet and delicious! That’s sad that that is all I really remember to tell you about the museum, haha! Oooooh well. Next up: we went to Troy! Yes, the same Troy that Homer wrote about in The Iliad. The site was one of the first excavations in Turkey, and they found remains of nine different ancient civilizations that settled there – I have NO idea how they figured out that the walls were all from different time periods, but they did! Not much is left for you to see, but the walls are still standing, which is really cool to see.(from all nine different civilizations.) They even built a replica of the Trojan Horse close to the site! You can climb up inside of it and take pictures, which we did, of course. Fun fun.

Our trip spent the night in a hotel in Canakkale that night. About seven of us ventured out into the streets of Canakkale, and did a little shopping at some small stands for awhile. We had dinner in the hotel and later went out and walked around some more – we found a hookah place! Haha so we sat and did hookah for a few minutes. Hookah is a big deal in Turkey…in every single café on the side of the street, they offered hookahs! In the mornings, walking the streets, we would see café owners/workers sitting down at a table and smoking hookah, waiting for customers! Haha – and in the bazaar, hookahs were EVERYWHERE! Semester at Sea won’t let us bring those on the ship, nor candles or drugs OBVIOUSLY haha….so we couldn’t buy any. But they had some that were over 1000 dollars and up, isn’t that insane!? Anyway, we went to bed around 11 that night because we had an early morning wake-up call to go to Gallipoli! Our hotel was nice and not run-down, but my room had no air-conditioning! There are many things that I’ve realized through this trip that I’ve taken for granted in the United States, and air-conditioning is one of the TOP ones! It is just so hot walking around all day outside, and then to have to sleep in a bedroom with no air conditioning is kind of miserable. I took a cold shower right before bed, and woke up feeling like I had run a marathon or something, I was disgusting and sweaty! I know you wanted to read about my sweat. Sorry. : ) But yeah, the air conditioning is something I will be so glad to have once I get back to the states! Yes, we have AC on the ship, though, so that’s good.


Day Three (July 21):


We woke up (I woke up sweaty) and had breakfast in the hotel, then headed for the bus. We drove to the beach in Gallipoli first and spent a few hours there! It was fun! I had cheese toast, which is also served a lot in Turkey, which is basically exactly what it sounds like: toast and cheese inside it. It’s really good, though! I sat by the beach and just chilled out. After the beach, our trip went to the Gallipoli Museum—which was also pretty run-down but very interesting. They had all sorts of things from the World War I battle at Gallipoli – soldiers’ uniforms (Turks and Australians and New Zealanders) and SO MANY guns and artillery. It was a reality shock to actually see all the guns there, just from one battle. The uniforms had blood splotches on them, and it was just really sad to see the pictures and belongings of some of the men who died. After the museum, we went to Anzac Cove, which is the shore there at Gallipoli where the Australians and New Zealanders came and surprise attacked the Turks in the battle. Then our bus drove up the pinnacle where the soldiers all climbed up in the middle of the night to fight more… we saw real trenches there, too! Tons of them! Gosh, it was crazy to see where a real battle was fought in a war that we’ve all been learning about for years in school. I’m glad I went on the trip for sure!


It was another 5 hours on the bus to get back to Istanbul to our ship. I sleeept. J When we got back, Lee and I had dinner on the ship with our friend, Stephanie, and then we all decided to go see a movie in Istanbul together! HA! We were so exhausted from our trip, but we didn’t want to just stay on the ship that night. We ventured into Istanbul via the tram and found the movie theater. Our movie didn’t start until 9 PM so we went to a café and had some Turkish tea before it started. It was a Wednesday night – and we were the ONLY ones in the theater! We had to walk through a few deserted shops to get to the theater, but when we got there, it was HUGE! Guess what we saw?! ECLIPSE. Yes, we did. We enjoyed it immensely. We were all so giggly that night…I think it was just because we hadn’t done anything so American in a long time, like watch a chick flick! So we had a good time. They have intermissions in movies, we found out. Haha. Half way through Eclipse, the screen goes blank and the lights came back on, and we all erupted into talking and laughing. We glanced behind us and realized that there were about 4 other people in the theater with us, now! Haha! Turkish people! Oh yeah, the movie was in English, but they had Turkish subtitles. The intermission was only 5 minutes, then our movie began again. Anyway, we liked the movie a lot and laughed a lot, even though the acting was pretty lame as always! By the way, I would have totally picked Jacob.


Day Four (July 22):


This day was more of exploring Istanbul. We went back to the Grand Bazaar and spent way too much time (and dare I say money?) there – we also went to the Spice Bazaar, which was really cool! They had tons and TONS of spices just sitting out in the shops and in the tunnel in huge pots. Real cool.


That late afternoon, we took the tram to the New Mosque and walked home from there. So we got to walk the Galatta Bridge and everything! We napped later that afternoon back at the ship, and had supper on the ship. We met up with a group of friends down at the gangway at 10 that night and ventured into Istanbul once again! We went to a popular nightlife area in the city called Taksim. There were about 20 of us in the group altogether, so we all took separate taxis – my taxi man was HILARIOUS! He was this really big guy and he was constantly dancing the whole ride to Taksim, and he was blaring this techno music, haha! There were 5 of us stuffed in the car, and he was swerving all over the road and dancing, and he made the taxi bump up and down a few times at the lights! He gave us his card when we got to Taksim and wanted us to call him when we wanted to go home, but we didn’t want to fear for our life again on the way back home so we didn’t call him. Haha. Our group had planned on going salsa dancing that night, because some of the people we were with had gone a few nights before in Taksim and said it was so much fun, but unfortunately, the night we went they weren’t having salsa night in any of the clubs! We still had fun though. We went to one club that was called Quba and danced some. The people in there were dancing SO hilariously, it was great! Lots of fist pumps. Lots of head nods. Loved it. After Quba, we just stood outside and talked awhile. We had a good night! J


Day Five (July 23):


Our last day in Turkey! Turkey went by SO fast, faster than any of the other ports! Lee and I headed straight to the tram that day and stopped at Cemberlitas, which is really close to the Hagia Sophia and is walking distance from the Grand Bazaar, as well. The older part of Istanbul, many of the historical places, are all very close together, so it’s really easy to navigate and easy to walk to everything. We went to Cemberlitas because we wanted to have a very Turkish experience: we had a Turkish bath! If you don’t know what that is, please let me inform you! Cemberlitas Hamami: The Historical Turkish Bath is the place we went. It’s this very old building – built in the 1500s, that a Sultan’s wife had built for Turkish baths, and they’ve been giving baths to this very day. So it is a very old tradition (the Romans came up with it apparently and it has been passed down). Lee and I went in, paid first (only about 20 dollars) and then were ushered into the right side down this long hallway. We had to go up a really narrow flight of stairs (and old) and were put into a small locker room. We were each given a wooden locker, and inside each was a little plastic bag with a piece of black panties in it!!! And we had rubber flip flops and a towel. We were told to undress, put the towel and the underwear on, and then come back outside. So…that’s what we did! We were led back downstairs, through another hallway deeper into the center of the building. It was very darkly lit the whole time, too. Then we were led into the bathing room – and oh my gosh, I nearly had a heart attack! The room had a very tall ceiling and was naturally lit by the sun – the ceiling was circular and made out of stone, and it had small stars cut out in the top – there were no other artificial lights in the place. In the middle of the room was a huge, circular, piece of marble. The top was smooth, and laying on top of it were about twenty to thirty practically naked women!!! They were just laying there, eyes closed, like they were sleeping/relaxing, exposing it all! Lee and I were almost afraid to go in another step. Around the room were small rooms like little pockets, all made of stone once again, and the floor was completely wet. We were told to find a spot on the marble to lie down and relax. We found spots and laid down really quickly…still embarrassed about being exposed in front of all these strangers AND girls that we knew and saw every day (since it was our last day in port, there were lots of SAS girls there, wanting to experience the famed Turkish baths, too). But we got over it and eventually started to relax. The marble was sooo warm to the touch, and the whole room was like a sauna. The hottest sauna I’ve ever been in! We were laying in the middle of the marble slab, and those laying on the outside of the marble were the ones being “bathed”. The women who work there in the Turkish baths are all older women who happen to be pretty overweight. All they wear are black underwear – so a black bra and black panties, haha. It’s pretty funny. After about a half hour of just relaxing in this sauna with all these girls around us, it was our turn to lay on the outside of the marble. My Turkish woman scrubbed my back really hard, so hard that it made my back pop! Then she made me flip over, and she literally scrubbed every inch of my body…!! It felt good but I couldn’t help but laugh a little. Then she had me turn around and lay on my stomach again and scrubbed every inch AGAIN! AAH! When she was done with me, she smacked my butt! HA! It was quite an experience. Then she led me into one of the pocket rooms and splashed a big pail of water all over me and got all the soap off me. She washed my hair with some kind of really good smelling soap and sudsed up my face, too. Then it was officially over. I went into the cool pool and talked to the other girls about it. My skin was shining, I was so clean! Apparently, a lot of people looked into their “dirty water” buckets that the women used while scrubbing them, and the water was brown after they were done, because the scrubbers they use are known to take off like the first layer of your skin – that’s how hard they scrub! I can believe it, I think I lost what was left of my tan after being scrubbed down in the Turkish bath.

I’m so so glad I did it – it was definitely out of my comfort zone and unlike any other massage or sauna I’ve ever been to! I felt so clean and relaxed afterward, too.  Even if you are uber modest, you should still have a Turkish bath once in your life just to have the experience! It’s totally worth it!


Anyway, I am back on the ship now for 6 days. We have 5 days of classes and then we reach MOROCCO!!! I am so excited. BUT…that is our last country, then we are heading back to Virginia. It’ll take us 11 days to get back. This trip has gone by so quickly – I can’t believe I’ll be sitting in my classes at Baylor in less than 3 weeks. WOW!


Now for the special guest writer:::



Avid Blog Readers!! I just wanted to say “hello”! I am glad Caitlin is doing such a good job keeping you updated! We are having a LOT of fun and learning a little along the way ;)! Can’t wait to see most of you in less than three weeks?! Wow! Sooo soon!


Sending love from the Mediterranean!!




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